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The Splendid and the Vile
Cover of The Splendid and the Vile
The Splendid and the Vile
A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERThe author of The Devil in the White City and Dead Wake delivers an intimate chronicle of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz—an inspiring portrait of...
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLERThe author of The Devil in the White City and Dead Wake delivers an intimate chronicle of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz—an inspiring portrait of...
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  • #1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
  • The author of The Devil in the White City and Dead Wake delivers an intimate chronicle of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz—an inspiring portrait of courage and leadership in a time of unprecedented crisis

    One of Chicago Tribune's Best Books of the Year So Far • "A bravura performance by one of America's greatest storytellers."—NPR

    "Churchill's lessons of resilience and his style of steady-handed leadership are essential to the state of mind of American readers."—Vanity Fair
    On Winston Churchill's first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.
    In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people "the art of being fearless." It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it's also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill's prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London's darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents' wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela's illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill's "Secret Circle," to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

    The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today's political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill's eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.

Excerpts-

  • From the book Chapter 44

    On a Quiet Blue Day

    The day was warm and still, the sky blue above a rising haze. Temperatures by afternoon were in the nineties, odd for London. People thronged Hyde Park and lounged on chairs set out beside the Serpentine. Shoppers jammed the stores of Oxford Street and Piccadilly. The giant barrage balloons overhead cast lumbering shadows on the streets below. After the August air raid when bombs first fell on London proper, the city had retreated back into a dream of invulnerability, punctuated now and then by false alerts whose once-terrifying novelty was muted by the failure of bombers to appear. The late-summer heat imparted an air of languid complacency. In the city's West End, theaters hosted twenty-four productions, among them the play Rebecca, adapted for the stage by Daphne du Maurier from her novel of the same name. Alfred Hitchcock's movie version, starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, was also playing in London, as were the films The Thin Man and the long-running Gaslight.

    It was a fine day to spend in the cool green of the countryside.

    Churchill was at Chequers. Lord Beaverbrook departed for his country home, Cherkley Court, just after lunch, though he would later try to deny it. John Colville had left London the preceding Thursday, to begin a ten-day vacation at his aunt's Yorkshire estate with his mother and brother, shooting partridges, playing tennis, and sampling bottles from his uncle's collection of ancient port, in vintages dating to 1863. Mary Churchill was still at Breccles Hall with her friend and cousin Judy, continuing her reluctant role as country mouse and honoring their commitment to memorize one Shakespeare sonnet every day. That Saturday she chose Sonnet 116—in which love is the "ever-fixed mark"—and recited it to her diary. Then she went swimming. "It was so lovely—joie de vivre overcame vanity."

    Throwing caution to the winds, she bathed without a cap.

    —-

    In Berlin that Saturday morning, Joseph Goebbels prepared his lieutenants for what would occur by day's end. The coming destruction of London, he said, "would probably represent the greatest human catastrophe in history." He hoped to blunt the inevitable world outcry by casting the assault as a deserved response to Britain's bombing of German civilians, but thus far British raids over Germany, including those of the night before, had not produced the levels of death and destruction that would justify such a massive reprisal.

    He understood, however, that the Luftwaffe's impending attack on London was necessary and would likely hasten the end of the war. That the English raids had been so puny was an unfortunate thing, but he would manage. He hoped Churchill would produce a worthy raid "as soon as possible."

    Every day offered a new challenge, tempered now and then by more pleasant distractions. At one meeting that week, Goebbels heard a report from Hans Hinkel, head of the ministry's Department for Special Cultural Tasks, who'd provided a further update on the status of Jews in Germany and Austria. "In Vienna there are 47,000 Jews left out of 180,000, two-thirds of them women and about 300 men between 20 and 35," Hinkel reported, according to minutes of the meeting. "In spite of the war it has been possible to transport a total of 17,000 Jews to the south-east. Berlin still numbers 71,800 Jews; in future about 500 Jews are to be sent to the south-east each month." Plans were in place, Hinkel reported, to remove 60,000 Jews from Berlin in the first four months after the end of the war, when transportation would again become available. "The remaining 12,000 will...

About the Author-

  • Erik Larson is the author of five national bestsellers: Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts, Thunderstruck, The Devil in the White City, and Isaac's Storm, which have collectively sold more than 9 million copies. His books have been published in nearly 20 countries.

Reviews-

  • Library Journal

    October 1, 2019

    New York Times best-selling author Larson here investigates Winston Churchill as leader in the early days of World War II. Drawing on intelligence reports, recently declassified files, and personal diaries only now made available, Larson presents not just Churchill but those in his immediate circle, from his family to private secretary John Colville and newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook.

    Copyright 2019 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Kirkus

    February 1, 2020
    The bestselling author deals with one of the most satisfying good-vs.-evil battles in history, the year (May 1940 to May 1941) during which Churchill and Britain held off Hitler. Bookshelves groan with histories of Britain's finest hour, but Larson (Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, 2015, etc.) employs a mildly unique strategy, combining an intense, almost day-to-day account of Churchill's actions with those of his family, two of his officials (Frederick Lindemann, who was Churchill's prime science adviser, and Lord Beaverbrook, minister of air production), and staff, including private secretary Jock Colville and bodyguard Walter Thompson. Since no one doubted they lived in extraordinary times and almost everyone kept journals and wrote letters, the author takes full advantage of an avalanche of material, much of which will be unfamiliar to readers. Churchill remains the central figure; his charisma, public persona, table talk, quirks, and sybaritic lifestyle retain their fascination. Authors have not ignored his indispensable wife, Clementine (Sonia Purnell's 2015 biography is particularly illuminating), but even history buffs will welcome Larson's attention to their four children, especially Mary, a perky adolescent and his favorite. He makes no attempt to rehabilitate Winston's only son, Randolph, a heavy-drinking spendthrift whose long-suffering wife, Pamela, finally consoled herself with a long affair with American representative Averell Harriman, which was no secret to the family and was entirely approved. Britain's isolation ended when Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, but Larson ends on May 10. The Blitz was in full swing, with a particularly destructive raid on London, but that day also saw Rudolf Hess, Hitler's second in command, fly to England and engage in a wacky attempt (planned since the previous autumn) to negotiate peace. Nothing came of Hess' action, but that day may also have marked the peak of the Blitz, which soon diminished as Germany concentrated its forces against the Soviet Union. A captivating history of Churchill's heroic year, with more than the usual emphasis on his intimates.

    COPYRIGHT(2020) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from February 17, 2020
    Larson (Dead Wake) delivers a propulsive, character-driven account of Winston Churchill’s first year as British prime minister (May 1940–May 1941), when the German air force launched “a full-on assault against the city of London” in preparation for an invasion that never came. Larson’s profile subjects include Churchill’s 17-year-old daughter, Mary; his private secretary, John “Jock” Colville, who kept a meticulous (and likely illegal, due to the national security secrets it revealed) diary; Nazi leader Rudolf Hess; and, to a lesser extent, ordinary Britons. Juxtaposing monumental developments, such as the Dunkirk evacuation, with intimate scenes, Larson notes that on the night Churchill learned French leaders wanted to make peace with Hitler, he raised his dinner guests’ spirits by passing out cigars, reading aloud telegrams of support from other countries, and “chant the refrain from a popular song.” Larson highlights little-known but intriguing figures, including chief science adviser Frederick Lindemann, who made a multifaceted but unsuccessful case for why tea shouldn’t be rationed, and documents the carnage caused by German bombs, including the deaths of 34 people at the Café de Paris shortly before Mary Churchill was set to arrive at the club. While the story of Churchill’s premiership and the Blitz have been told in greater historical depth, they’ve rarely been rendered so vividly. Readers will rejoice. Agent: David Black, the David Black Agency.

  • Booklist

    Starred review from February 1, 2020
    It is difficult to imagine a more challenging first year in office than that experienced by Winston Churchill in 1940. Hitler invaded Belgium and Holland on Churchill's first day in office, and the Dunkirk evacuation was only two weeks away. Yet, as Larson (Dead Wake, 2015) so artfully illustrates, it is equally difficult to imagine a leader more uniquely equipped for confronting Germany than Churchill. The broad outlines may be familiar to most readers: the relentless air raids by the Luftwaffe and the heavy burden that England had to bear before the other Allied powers joined the war. What Larson brilliantly provides are the finer details of the effects on England as he focuses on the family and home of its dynamic, idiosyncratic, and indefatigable leader. Larson draws heavily on the diaries and papers of Churchill's inner circle, especially daughter Mary and personal secretary James Colville, as well as correspondence with his trusted advisers: Lord Beaverbrook, physicist Frederick Lindemann, and General Hastings Lionel Ismay. Similarly, incorporating snippets from the diaries of German leaders Goring and Goebbels demonstrates how determined the Germans were to annihilate England, even as they expressed the grudging respect they came to have for Churchill. Larson's skill at integrating vast research and talent for capturing compelling human dramas culminate in an inspirational portrait of one of history's finest, most fearless leaders.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling Larson, a library star, once again masterfully renders history immediate, suspenseful, and relevant.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2020, American Library Association.)

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A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
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